June 13 update on COVID-19 in MN: Hospitalizations, ICU cases plateau; don't let guard down, officials say

Person holding up a bag of masks while standing near a road.
Andrea Gelb, Duluth NAACP executive committee member, holds up face masks on May 20 near the parking lot of Holy Family Catholic Church in Duluth, during a free face mask distribution event. In the background is Ivy Vainio, communications co-chair of the Duluth NAACP and executive committee member, holding up a sign advertising free masks.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Updated: 11:40 a.m.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota climbed past 30,000 on Saturday, while the number of people hospitalized with the disease in the state fell to its lowest level in more than a month.

Saturday's report from the Minnesota Department of Health included 394 new cases and nine more deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 1,283 since the pandemic started.

While residents of long-term care facilities have made up the majority of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota, Saturday’s report showed only four of the nine newly reported deaths were people who lived in those facilities.

The total number of confirmed cases statewide is now 30,172. Completed tests exceeded 12,000 for the third consecutive day — bringing that total to more than 400,000.

And the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals continued to fall, to 390 in Saturday's report. That's the lowest level since May 3. The number of those patients being treated in ICUs also is at its lowest level in more than a month.

Minnesota health officials offered some cautiously upbeat analysis Friday on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic as those two closely watched metrics — current hospitalizations and intensive care cases — continued to plateau.

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The stabilizing numbers suggest that the state is successfully managing the spread of the disease so it does not overwhelm the health care system.

“The hospitalization picture has stabilized and improved pretty significantly in recent weeks, which has been great to see,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Friday.

Officials, however, warned the situation could deteriorate if Minnesotans get complacent.

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date.

Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, again implored people to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

“The positive news is that many of our indicators are neutral or slightly positive,” Ehresmann said, adding that while it was cause for celebration, “we’re not out of the woods, yet.”

‘Tired of it, too’

Officials have been pleased by the relative recent stability in some coronavirus statistics but continued to press Minnesotans to act responsibly in public — masks and distancing — to minimize the spread of the disease.

“We know people are tired of this, and we are tired of it, too,” Ehresmann said Friday. “But following these precautions on a personal level is really important for the state to keep moving in the right direction.”

Earlier in the week Ehresmann cautioned that the coronavirus could surge again in the fall and winter along with influenza.

The state’s COVID-19 response this spring to minimize indoor contact in restaurants, bars and other gathering spaces effectively eliminated the typical influenza season, but as people return to social spaces, the state is likely in the fall to face influenza and COVID-19 cycles together, she said.

Restrictions on daily life were eased significantly this week with Gov. Tim Walz letting a host of businesses reopen — including indoor bar and restaurant service at limited capacity.

A graph showing the percentage of cases tested and their current status.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 638 confirmed cases as of Friday.

MN counties with the fastest per-capita growth in COVID-19 cases

That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

At Hormel, officials say they anticipate that by early next week, they'll have 40 active cases among employees. They expect that an additional 39 people who've already tested positive will have recovered by then.

Quality Pork Producers has 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in Mower County but who work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,607 confirmed cases as of Friday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Friday, confirmed cases were at 2,096 with 17 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

On Friday, the Health Department reported 541 people have now tested positive in the county.

Developments from around the state

Early test results show a low positivity rate among Floyd protesters

Pop-up coronavirus testing sites around the Twin Cities have taken samples from more than 3,000 people who attended mass gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.

State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm says that the state has gotten about 1,300 test results back, and they show a 1.4 percent positivity rate.

Malcolm said people who don't have symptoms can get tested, and the tests are free.

"If you were involved in any of the mass gatherings — the protests, the vigils, the neighborhood cleanups, providing food, water, etc. — we really encourage you to get free testing at one of these community sites,” Malcolm said.

While that positivity rate is so far relatively low, health officials say it's too soon to tell if the protests will be the source of widespread community transmission.

Four sites were open on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and will be open those days in coming weeks as well.

  • The Holy Trinity Church on East Lake Street in Minneapolis

  • The Sabathani Community Center on East 38th Street in Minneapolis

  • The New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Avenue North in Minneapolis

  • The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul

— Catharine Richert | MPR News

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COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based off Minnesota Department of Health cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.